On Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Episode I Remix: Part III

Continued from Parts I and II.

Dragon Attack

Picture of Lennithon
The Adult Blue Dragon Lennithon, as far as I can tell, has no pre-existing history in the realms. Here is everything we know about him:
  • He is not an enthusiastic participant in the raid.
  • He doesn't want to fight adventurers.
This encounter showcases bounded accuracy and enemies that are much more powerful than you. 

There's a wall, see? The players don't know what's in the module. When they reach this encounter, they will assume that if they engage the creature, they will all die. The only way to not think that is to have some sort of meta-knowledge about the game. So what's this choice like as a player, hm?

Either run and hide or die.

So that's frustrating. 

The solution, or at least the only one I can see, is to be forthright about the situation.
"The (insert dramatic description of) dragon is (insert graphic depiction of) murdering guards on the parapets. You feel waves of fear come over you (make DC 17 wisdom saves). Those of you not terrified can act. Watching, you can tell that the dragon is only reluctantly attacking the towers and can likely be driven off with a good hit or two, unwilling to risk his own skin. However, any successful attack that doesn't drive him off is likely to focus his quite lethal attention on you. Driving him off now would save hundreds of lives and the surviving guards would make life that much more difficult for the cultists. What do you want to do?
Then track 1 minute of real world time, having a round pass if no one takes an action, with the dragon killing more guards.


Providing a bonus for capturing cultists (and only cultists) means that there's a choice between more difficult movement for a reward. For new players, this also teaches them that they can choose to knock out opponents with melee attacks instead of killing them. 

The information on other ways to leave the keep is also buried here, inside the text. 

Save the Mill

Charisma (Performance)? Well, whatever. 

This encounter straddles the line of character skill and player skill on the wrong side. If the player's take the time to stop and look, they still are likely to fail to determine that it's a trap. 

In addition to the "go save the mill" speech given, I'd give clues in the description of the scene. "A cultist looks around into the night waving his torch back and forth, cackling evilly as Dragon-Dogs stack kindling up against the door. He moves towards it for a second, and then back, waving his torch around! What do you do?"

Then, I'd grant the mechanical check in either case. The DC should be higher if they don't stop to look or ask questions (DC 20). Being suspicious and stopping to look should either grant advantage (at DC 15) or lower the DC (to 10). The players can ask questions about the description until they make up their own mind to attack. Obviously they won't set it on fire with the force inside, so after enough time it should become obvious it's a trap with no roll needed.


No complaints. No changes necessary. Well done. 

I'd like to call out the "let the players make their own plan" and "pressure the players based on your group makeup" as excellent techniques and it's awesome to see them in published materials. 

I once had a player complain when I held up a timer for some time limited event, crying out "It's not fair!" This is something players in a pressure situation who don't deal well with pressure (or who might think they can remove the pressure through argument or discussions) might do. I said to that player "You are absolutely right, it isn't fair." and then just waited. Acknowledging when players complain that things aren't going their way goes a long way to having them accept that sometimes bad things happen in games. 

Half-Dragon Champion

You know, I have no real major problem with this section, except for this statement:
"If by some mischance Cyanwrath is killed or captured, his place in the dragon hatchery is taken by another half-dragon."
No. No it isn't.

Other quibbles have to do with presentation. Do characters know how much more powerful than them this creature is? Is that presented in a way that the player can get that information? The answer is no. It needs to be.

The whole "fair fight" thing is also ridiculous. The replacement of "I'll execute one townsperson I've got every minute until someone comes to face me or I run out of townspeople" is a much better solution. Tell them he wants to fight a single opponent. If they all come out, let them all fight the 15 dragon dogs, Cyanwrath, and a half dozen cultists. Let them fight him one on one. Let them try to cheat and plan. Let them do whatever they want.

If they do kill him, then they should kill him. He won't be in episode 3 or any other episode, because he will be a corpse.


Why have Cyanwrath kill (or almost kill) a party member at all? 

The idea is to take something from the players. Not just have something bad for them as characters, but for them to become invested as players in seeing this person go down.

In Phandelver, I achieved conversion when I had Yeemick jump down and say "You'll never catch me!". Suddenly my players were very interested in catching Yeemick. Not their characters—the players. 

They weren't bothered or as invested in his unsurprising and ultimately inevitable betrayal. But telling them they couldn't catch him, had the 9 hit point party wizard jump down 20' off a ledge (taking 2d6 damage) and run outside to hunt him down by himself, alone.


The problem is that what's printed in the module doesn't cause that. Just fighting a dude you can't beat and one that knocks you down doesn't do that. It's the way in which he kills you that's important. 

If you fight this dude, he will kill you. If you don't he will kill these women and children. This is Sophie's choice—it just makes players feel bad and is unfun. 

However, if he toys with the players and they see the encounter is winnable (even if ridiculously difficult) and he taunts them and gets away with it, then he'll be hated by the players. 

This isn't a mechanical thing. It's a personal thing, which means that it requires the Dungeon Master to be skilled at pushing buttons. You can't just write this encounter without calling this out, because a bunch of the people running it are going to make it frustrating for the players, and not something that makes them, personally, as players, hate your opponent.

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Why doesn't Wizards just hire you already? Your rewrites and advice on running games is always spot on.

    1. I've already got too much to do. Though if Mike Mearls wants to give me a day job, I'd think about it.

  2. Very thoughtful analysis. Nicely done!

  3. I love where you're taking this. What's the source on the link in the Champion section? I like its style very much. HAIL TIAMAT

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Okay, not actually that hard to figure out. Thanks again for putting this together, it makes Hoard a lot more enticing.

  4. I would argue that by giving the players a sense of powerlessness in the champion fight it cements their role in the world and feeling of cohesion, it ofcourse depends on the style of GMing.
    Me I had a likable brave guard that had been aiding the PC's earlier and shown off his valor go and confront Cyanwrath and get mercilessly destroyed in combat (complete with rolls so the players knew just what was coming) and THEN had Cyanwrath issue his challenge.
    This let the players know the danger and have to make that choice between two bad outcomes.

    As a result I feel the encounter later on will be FAR more interesting and the player will be far more invested when they come to it.
    Mind you I loath worlds where the players shape happenings around them just because they are players and no other reason past that.

  5. Re the champion encounter, I've been listening to some Actual Play recordings, and it definitely can work as written--for the right group of players and characters. I think the key is to be alert to the group's mood and what motivates them. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be set up far in advance, so the DM can toss in whichever version is likely to work better for the players when the time comes.


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